Tag Archives: illustration

Walser: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Walser: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

I was doing some research on Switzerland and looking at old maps when I came across a 1763 map of Canton Lucern created by Gabriel Walser. I found myself inspired by all his details, especially those focusing on the cities, towns, and parishes. It’s still stunning 250 years later and it’s an amazing time capsule. You can see the influence into more modern designs and the connections to older styles. As I was looking, I realized it’d make an excellent set of brushes for fantastical maps, especially for those artists (like me) who like to ground their work with a historical approach.

So, I spent a Saturday converting all sorts of objects in the map into brushes and today I am releasing it as Walser, an 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Photoshop taken from Gabriel Walser’s original work. The set is enormous—over 250 brushes, to help make your projects unique. Having different images for the same object helps make your map feel more hand-drawn. No artist can hand-render the same object identically—even printing presses aren’t perfect no matter how hard they try. Adding subtle variants can help trick a reader’s eye and it makes a map feel more authentic.

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Walser
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Walser

I like working with a lot of brushes and Walser is big (see the full set here), all of the settlement’s names I took from the original German key (thanks to my friend Redd for helping translate)—Walser had a particular way of labeling ruins that I enjoy. Inside the set you’ll find:

  • 5 Large Cities
  • 10 Castles
  • 10 Towns
  • 10 Catholic Parishes (They look like towns but with little crosses on top. Consider swapping those for a religious icon from your setting.)
  • 10 Monasteries
  • 10 Chapels
  • 20 Scattered Farms
  • 10 Ruins
  • 30 Individual Trees
  • 30 Blocks of Trees
  • 40 Hills
  • 30 Mountains
  • 15 Mountain Ranges (aka jagged hills)
  • 22 Unique/Combination Landforms

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files.


DOWNLOAD WALSER


Wasler is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. All I did was convert it to brushes, Wasler did all the heavy lifting—so giving him credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

If you like the Walser brush set and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my urban fantasy novels. (The first books is only $2.99 on eBook.) You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com.

Enjoy Walser! It’s a great little set to make maps and connect with history. There’s a lot of incredible cartographers and geographers throughout history that should be remembered and it’s important we enthusiasts take moments to reflect on their impact. Gabriel Walser has a few other maps as well and his style varied, which has me thinking about a Wasler supplement for the future. Finally, feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email! I love seeing how this stuff is used and sharing your work with my readers.


Want to see the other cartography brush sets I’ve created?

  • Lumbia

    A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers.

  • Lehmann

    Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure style mountains.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

If you spend any time on cartography forums or cartography-related subreddits, you’ll eventually run across folks using Star Raven’s Sketchy Cartography Brushes. You can see why, the whole set is incredible, cohesive, and you can make beautiful maps in no time.

I have always admired Star Raven’s work, but I began to see it everywhere. One thing I love about maps is how unique each felt, and I wanted to do what I could to help maintain that feeling of discovery. Star Raven was a big inspiration for me to create Lumbia, my own sketchy cartography brush set which I’m giving away today for free.

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0

The set consists of over two hundred brushes designed for high-resolution use. Each mountain, tree, and hill are separate by design—I find this allows more custom placing than the block method, it lets you decide the look of the forest and ranges.

Lumbia 1.0 Includes:

  • 1 Mother of Mountains (an absolute unit)
  • 15 Large Mountains
  • 42 Medium mountains
  • 25 Small Mountains
  • 71 Hill
  • 17 Scrub bushes
  • 9 Cattails
  • 13 Cacti (prickly bois)
  • 9 Bone Trees (spoOoOoky!)
  • 9 Cyprus Trees
  • 10 Acacia Trees
  • 21 Maple Trees
  • 19 Pine Trees
  • 12 Generic Jungley Trees
  • 12 Tumbleweeds

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support the brush file. A vector set isn’t included in this initial release, but will most likely come in later a later version. I’m sure I’ll announce it here when its ready.


DOWNLOAD LUMBIA 1.0


Lumbia is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. So have some fun.

If you like Lumbia and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my urban fantasy novels. They’re available in stores and online, and you can find out much more about them at bellforgingcycle.com.

Enjoy Lumbia, everyone! Have a suggestion or request for future Lumbia versions or want to show me what you created, feel free to send me an email! Have a friend who might be interested in using Lumbia? Share this post with them.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

I've updated my Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)

A New Hybrid Solution for Creating Fantasy Maps

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’ve updated my ‘Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)’ guide this afternoon. It’s a minor update, but one I wanted to specifically call out. You’ll find a handy new hybrid tool from Red Blob Games that builds some of the most stunning fantasy maps on the fly—it might be the best out there right now. So if you’re working on a project (or if you’re just a map enthusiast), you really owe it to yourself to swing on by and check it out.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Visual Inspiration: Brian Coldrick

Visual Inspiration: Brian Coldrick

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It’s a book that contained a series of images, each was accompanied by a few lines of text that sent one’s imagination soaring. These small one-shot scenarios were fascinating to a younger-me and were often more imaginative than many of the novels I’ve read in later years. I’ve thought about them often over the years.

So, imagine how delighted I was when I stumbled across the art of Irish-illustrator and sloth-enthusiast Brian Coldrick and his unsettling series Behind You. These single-shot stories follow a similar method to Burdick but the stories themselves skew towards the modern horror or creepypasta—and damn, are they ever compelling.

Behind You is extensive—there are so many pieces it’s difficult to pick a favorite and the series is still ongoing. The loose style and muted colors work remarkably well, blending the fantastic with the realistic and letting the narrative fill in the spaces in between. You’ll find yourself enthralled.

If the static illustration wasn’t enough, Behind You now includes subtle animations as well, which only further each pieces’ effectiveness. You can see a few of my favorites below, click on any image to view it larger. Or just start at the beginning.

That’s only a tiny portion of the entire series and you should take some time and explore the narratives. Recently, many of these images have been collected into the book Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories, which I recommend buying (link takes you to Amazon, but I’m sure you can get it all over the place.) As I mentioned above, Behind You is still ongoing and can be viewed at Tapastic or Tumblr. Making cool art isn’t free—Coldrick has a Patreon (of which I’m a member) and I’d encourage you to throw a few bucks his way so he can keep making these delightful terrors. You can buy prints of his work from Society6. Finally, be sure to follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Deviant Art, and Instagram.


If you like Brian Coldrick’s work be sure to check out some of the other artists who I’ve found inspiring in the past. While there’s certainly a theme to the art that inspires me, you’ll find lots of different styles, tones, mediums, and moods.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Mapping Resources for Authors

Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)

“But I can’t draw…”

How many times have we heard that from our fellow fantasy authors? It’s said when we discuss web design, book cover design, email marketing design, cover design, but it gets said most often when we discuss map designs for our various fantastical projects. Fantasy readers love maps. They draw fan into your world—and while they’re not a requirement, they’ve become expected to some extent.

That expectation is what stresses folks out—but there are solutions out there that can help! There are all sorts of tool that will get you a useful map so you can get back to writing. To help, I’ve put together this post. Here you’ll find all sorts of mapping resource from the simple to the complex. This will not be a definitive guide, merely a handy set of tools I’ve used that might empower you.

If you have a suggestion for a tool I should check out or an article or guide I should read, feel free to leave a comment or send an email to hello@kmalexander.com. I’ll be happy to update the post after I check it out for myself.


Contents

  1. The Lazy Way — Map Generation
  2. The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators
  3. The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps
  4. Further Resources


The Lazy Way — Map Generation

If you are not picky about your map but want a base to annotate consider one of these free map-generation tools. Please note, most of these are fine for personal use, but you should check their licensing options if you plan on including these in your manuscript. (I highly recommend you hire an illustrator to redraw your map when you get to that point. You’ll get a style that fits your book and you’ll avoid any licensing lawsuits.)

Uncharted Atlas

In-depth mapping generation focus on creating realistic and random landscapes. If you’re not picky, these are an excellent starting point. I highly recommend running through the whole tutorial to see how the process works. Be sure to follow the Uncharted Atlas Twitter account for new maps generated hourly.

Upsides: Unique maps that pay attention to realistic geology
Downsides: Small images, no easy way to download high-resolution files.

Azgaar Fantasy Map Generator

Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator

In-depth mapping generator that allows for a wide variety of themes and customization. Azgaar has a great blog where he goes into detail about his process, and I’d encourage you to check it out.

Upsides: Loads of customization, download of editable vector .svg files
Downsides: Bit buggy. Occasionally crashes some browsers.

Planet Map Generator

Planet Map Generator

When you’re looking for something a bit larger, this planet map generator helps you expand to a global scale. Simple choose a seed and then customize to your heart’s content.

Upsides: Loads of customization, a lot of customizability
Downsides: Maps can be a little ugly

GM World Map

GM World Map

An expansive generated map that allows for custom levels of zoom. Loads of options and an excellent base for world maps.

Upsides: Lots of random generations make for unique maps, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: No customizability

Medieval Fantasy City Generator

Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator

If you’re looking for generating something a bit smaller than continents or worlds, then this city generator is perfect. It allows for some style customization and a few other little treats.

Upsides: Highly detailed, fun visual customization, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: Occasional strangeness w/ output. Oddly shaped buildings. No zoom.


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The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators

Often, we authors have something particular in mind, and auto-generated maps won’t quite work out for us. But it would be nice to have some sort of program that achieves the style we want without learning cartography. The tools below are designed for just that.

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games [New!]

If you’re looking for a classic fantasy approach and a simple (and quite powerful execution) then the latest version of Mapgen is perfect. With the wave of your brush, you can create stunning high-resolution maps in moments.

Upsides: Incredible maps in moments, realistic biomes, high-resolution output
Downsides: Rivers are placed automatically, lack of brush sizes, only terrain

Roll for Fantasy

Roll for Fantasy

Using tile-based imagery, this site allows you to create a wide variety of maps. Tiles can be rotated and mirrored creating a lot of customizability.

Upsides: Loads of customization.
Downsides: Maps can be a little plain. Time-consuming.

Inkarnate

This is one of my favorites. Inkarnate lets you draw maps quickly and effectively, and they look good. The Pro account allows for even more customizability.

Upsides: Easy to use. Lots of options.
Downsides: One specific style, it’s a good one, but a limit.

Worldspinner

World Spinner

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of political borders and imperial expansion, then World Spinner (subscription-based) might be the right fit. Plus it includes a neat Heraldry Designer as well.

Upsides: Focus on countries and borders for fantasy. Heraldry designer.
Downsides: Not totally customizable.


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The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps

Sometimes auto-generated images won’t hack it. Either you have a specific world in mind, or you want complete control over the placement of mountain ranges, cities, towns, harbors, and rivers of your world. I get it, I too suffer from that sickness. Thankfully, there’s a lot out there to help make your map be the best it can be.

First, let’s start with some advice…
Crafting Plausible Maps

What does it take to craft a world that feels authentic and realistic? How much of your design will be rooted in fantasy and how much will be based on scientific principles? In this in-depth article, Brandon Kier takes you through the dos and don’ts of fantasy cartography.

Tolkien’s Map and The Messed Up Mountains of Middle-earth

I’ve always felt there’s something a little off about the classic map of Middle-earth. Author and geologist Alex Acks agrees. In this article for Tor.com, he goes into details on the strange geology of Tolkien’s classic.

Fantastic Cartography Tips From the Guy Who Mapped Game of Thrones

Jonathan Roberts has an extensive pedigree when it comes to fantasy cartography. In this quick article for Wired, he discusses the things he keeps in mind as he embarks on each and every commission.

10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps

A map should help enhance your story, and Lauren Davis has ten tips you can use to improve your project.

Now, let’s check out some tutorials…
Fantastic Maps — Map Making Tutorials

Jonathan Roberts (from the Wired article earlier) has a ton of handy guides on his blog—Fantastic Maps. In his posts, he shares how you can quickly sketch out portions of your map using only a pen and paper. Be sure to check out his Tips & Tricks sections.

Ascensions’ Atlas style in Photoshop

This step by step guide is often duplicated and for a good reason. It goes into great detail explaining how you can make a custom and unique atlas-style map for your setting.

Learn to Draw a Stunning Map Using Photoshop

Over at the World Building School, Nathan Smith goes into detail about how he creates a stylized map using Photoshop.

A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping

The key here is plausible worlds. This free downloadable PDF goes into great detail on constructing a map that feels realistic. The art is up to you, but the planning is solid.

This is a time-consuming process, and to create something memorable it’ll take a lot of trial and error. Especially if you’re just starting out. But the end result is something that fits your vision perfectly. Plus, like generated maps, there’s always the option of hiring an illustrator to redraw your creation. Just make sure to get those core ideas down on paper.


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Further Resources

If you are looking for additional help. Here are a few more resources for you to explore.

Making Magnificent Mountains

A free Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop brush set I created which allows you to recreate hachure-style mountains to lend a turn-of-the-century feel to your maps.

r/Mapmaking

Reddit’s map making subforum has a ton of great advice and a lot of inspiration. While you’re at it make sure to check out their Mapmaking Wiki. It’s basically this post but with a ton more tools listed.

Cartographers Guild

This online community has been around for a long time and has a ton of great members who are happy to share process, tips, tricks, and tools with the community. It’s also a great place to look for illustrators that can turn your sketches into a work of art.

Old Maps Online

Inspiration can come from anywhere. This handy site allows you to zoom into specific areas on the map and find old maps related to that area. Never know what cool stuff you’ll stumble across.


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This is just a small list of tools I’ve tried and liked. There’s a variety of sites and programs out there for a variety of authors and more coming along each day. As with everything, map creation is about finding the tool that works for you, fits your vision, and keeps you writing. As I mentioned in the beginning, if you have a site or resource you like that’s not on this list, let me know! I’d love to continue expanding this post.

Now, go make some maps.

✨🗺✨


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Sebastien Ecosse

Visual Inspiration: Sebastien Ecosse

Recently, as I’ve been ramping up my research for Book IV of the Bell Forging Cycle, I came across the work of illustrator Sebastien Ecosse. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of genre and concept art, longtime readers will immediately understand why Ecosse’s work stands out for me.

I was first drawn in by his landscapes, his cityscapes in particular. They’re layered, rich, and beautifully textured. Places of light and shadows. You can almost feel the humid air against your skin, smell the mix of bizarre aromas, and hear the tapestry of sounds echoing throughout. In many ways, they could be cousins to the megalopolis of Lovat from my novels. With his other work, Ecosse manages to capture a sense of foreboding and dread that lends itself well to horror—in particular, his Lovecraftian work. I’ve posted some of my favorites below, as always you can click to view them larger.

Ecosse has prints available for purchase, and you can see much more of his work over on his website: sebastienecosse.com. You can also find him on ArtStation and Deviant Art. Be sure to check him out on Facebook or over follow him over on Twitter. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself inspired.

💀 🎨 💀


If you like Sebastien Ecosse’s work be sure to check out some other illustrators and concept artists I’ve shared in the past: